Confessions of gynaecologist

SINGAPORE - She gets calls from married men at all hours of the day.

But it's not what you think.

Dr Ann Tan is a gynaecologist, and she says it's all part of the job when she fields calls from distressed husbands worried about their expectant wives.

She recalls the time one stressed husband phoned her at 3am for support because he didn't know how to be strong for his pregnant wife. They had been undergoing tests to check if the child had any abnormalities.

He called her three times in total that night, and each time, she spent about 10 minutes on the phone listening to him and soothing frayed nerves.

It is normal for fathers to worry, says Dr Tan.

"Gynaecology is about the father as much as it is about the mother.

"The husbands will come down to the clinic or call me just to know about test results or ultrasounds," she says.

Sometimes, they also call her when they are worried about fertility issues, like sperm count.

"It is to unload all their worries because very often, I am the only one who is not related to them, and yet familiar with their situation," says the gynaecologist.

The 49-year-old mother of three, who has been practicing for 20 years, says that she wasn't always sure if she wanted to specialise in gynaecology.

She was a medical student when she delivered her first baby.

"It was exciting yet very frightening. I was worried about so many things, like possibly dropping the baby and administering the wrong kind of medicine."

Her interest was cemented when she was a young medical officer.

"I looked after babies and knew then that I wanted to help mothers with their pregnancies and little ones," says Dr Tan.

It also helps that gynaecology is a "happy job", as "delivering life regularly is always a happy event".

These days, she has her own practice, Women & Fetal Centre at Paragon Shopping Centre.

And she has seen at least 870 births in her six years there.

And yes, the old wives' tale is true: Women tend to go into labour and give birth in the wee hours of the morning, which means that Dr Tan has become used to a broken sleep cycle.

She says with a hearty exhale: "I never have eight hours of sleep, except on holidays."

Being on call 24/7 means she's constantly fielding questions - whether labour has started, if sex during pregnancy is okay and sometimes even solving a couples' domestic disputes.

Her daughters, aged 11, 15 and 18, are constantly telling her to "get off (her) Blackberry", she says.

And when Dr Tan goes on holiday with her family, the patients often panic. They want her to be contactable at all times should they have any questions or emergencies.

"But I usually have backups - other colleagues who can step in while I'm away. And this usually calms them down," says Dr Tan, who goes on holidays twice a year.

Not bundles of joy all the time

Having a baby is one of the most initmate experiences a couple can have, she says.

Sometimes, the couple become so comfortable with her that they have no qualms about public displays of affection.

She says: "I've seen husbands and wives cuddling on the same bed, especially after the birth of their child."

Of course, clothes are not shed. Not yet anyway.

"No one feels sexy after childbirth!" says Dr Tan with a smile.

And yes, some husbands do faint during delivery.

She recalls, in one of those instances, mobilising the nurses to help a husband out of the room, leaving his wife, who was a little shocked, to carry on pushing.

As a doctor who often deals with high-risk pregnancies, she says she does deliver "miracle babies" for whom survival didn't seem likely.

She recalls a difficult pregnancy, where the patient had her cervix stitched at 17 weeks, but her water bag broke too soon, after a month.

She managed to maintain the pregnancy for seven weeks. She beams as she says that the baby is doing well a year on.

But it is not bundles of joy all the time.

She also has had to deal with miscarriages or deliver news to eager parents that their in-vitro fertilisation treatment has failed.

"One minute, I have to break the news of a miscarriage, and the next minute, I have to be happy for the couple next door who has just given birth."

Dr Tan admits she does get emotional in her job, and she can't help but show it sometimes.

But she has learnt to keep a positive outlook for the sake of her patients, even though she might be wracked with worry inside.

Secrets of the trade

1 Limit yourself to two glasses of wine. You never know when you will be called in to deliver a baby.

2 Always have scented lotion and hand sanitiser with you. Patient like it when you have soft, clean hands.

3 Learn to cope with less sleep.

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